Gov. JB Pritzker rolled out a $45.4 billion budget proposal Wednesday, with a specific focus on addressing the state’s healthcare workforce and behavioral health.
His proposal creates a $25 million program to help community colleges train nurses, technicians and other high-demand healthcare personnel. It also allocates $180 million through the Department of Healthcare and Family Services for providers in the Medicaid program to direct toward staff bonuses, continuing education, staff retention and recruitment.
The Department of Public Health would receive an extra $10 million to hire 175 staff to survey and monitor nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and for epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists.
It also includes $500 million for HFS’ proposed rate reform for long-term care facilities, which the agency says will maximize federal dollars to boost staffing and improve quality.
Pritzker is also proposing to eliminate licensure fees for 470,000 nurses, physicians, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, respiratory care workers, social workers and other healthcare workers in the coming fiscal year, something officials said could reduce expenses for providers by $21 million.
“Let’s recognize the burden our healthcare workers have borne and give them a much-needed reprieve,” he said.
Other pieces include $2.5 million for a collaboration between IDPH and education agencies to certify academic-based training programs for community health workers and a $2 million increase in scholarships for nurses.
The budget also increases funding and support for behavioral health services in Illinois. That includes $140 million to HFS for behavioral health rate payments and $150 million to fully implement a program for children with serious mental illnesses.
It also allocates $70 million to the Department of Human Services for the creation of the 988 hotline number for those in a mental health crisis, which is set to go live nationally this July.
Pritzker also announced he will appoint a chief behavioral health officer to oversee and coordinate behavioral health services in Illinois.
“I'm confident the chief behavioral health officer will succeed in streamlining and coordinating these services across state agencies,” he said.
Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, told Health News Illinois she was thankful for the decision.
“(Pritzker’s) commitment to promoting mental health will help thousands of struggling Illinoisans,” Conroy said. “The focus of this officer will emphasize Illinois’ commitment to creating a continuum of care and mental health and addiction.”
Other provisions in the budget include:
· Maintaining $2 billion in federal funding and adding $20 million to IDPH for public health preparedness and COVID-19 response activities at the state and local health department level for vaccination efforts, contact tracing, testing and laboratory services.
· $1 million for Alzheimer’s disease outreach, research, care and support.
· $1 million for sickle cell prevention, care and treatment.
· $3 million for technology improvements at IDPH laboratories.
· $96.4 million to provide services to more individuals with disabilities needing assistance to stay in their homes through the Home Services Program and strengthens the program through provider wage increases.
· $2.5 million for the Community Health Worker certification program.
· An additional $100.7 million for the Department of Aging’s Community Care Program to accommodate caseload growth and utilization.
· $14 million to fund a rate increase for CCP providers starting in 2023.
· $17.5 million to operate the new 200-bed Chicago Veterans’ Home.
Healthcare associations across the spectrum heaped praise on the governor's spending plan, specifically as it relates to workforce challenges.
“The governor’s budget proposal importantly allocates resources to begin addressing healthcare staffing shortages, which have been worsened by the pandemic," Illinois Health and Hospital Association CEO A.J. Wilhelmi said in a statement. "We support the governor’s proposed funding for programs designed to help bring more workers into healthcare professions, and to help recruit and retain healthcare workers."
The Illinois Primary Health Care Association said they looked forward to working with policymakers “on efforts to improve providers’ ability to recruit, retain and develop healthcare workers.”
Illinois State Medical Society President Dr. Regan Thomas said they appreciated Pritzker acknowledging the challenges faced by the workforce, as well as addressing the state’s reimbursement backlog.
“For many years medical practices serving state employees and retirees struggled as they waited months and months for reimbursement,” he said. “The length of delayed reimbursement has improved in recent years and with this budget, if approved, should go away.”
The Illinois Nurses Association said they support Pritzker’s efforts to ease the costs of obtaining a nursing license and investments in programs to increase the state’s healthcare workforce.
“We welcome the governor’s support and are looking forward to working with him to help build the nursing workforce of the future,” they said in a statement.
Community Behavioral Healthcare Association CEO Marvin Lindsey said a $140 million investment to rebuild the state’s behavioral health workforce “represents a historic financial investment in the care for individuals working to overcome mental health and substance use challenges.”
Illinois Behavioral Healthcare Association CEO Jud DeLoss echoed that sentiment.
“Depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and opioid overdoses have all soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, so Illinois behavioral health system needs every possible extra dollar to combat the behavioral health pandemic swamping the state,” he said.
Illinois’ long-term care associations were also generally supportive.
“Programs such as front-line worker license fee waivers, nurse scholarships and funding community colleges to expand the number of those who can serve as front-line workers are welcome initiatives,” said LeadingAge Illinois CEO Angela Schnepf. “However, these need to coincide with legislation supporting the creation of CNA intern and medication aides positions in senior living communities so that a career ladder can be made available to keep these workers in the healthcare field.”
Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, said he appreciates the allocation for rate reform, and he hopes long-term care is included “in a significant way” when it comes to workforce.
“Nursing home reimbursement should be focused on quality outcomes for the residents receiving care in the bed, with an emphasis on appropriate staffing,” he said. “Similarly, the focus on and dedication of funding to workforce development in the governor’s budget is welcome at a time when our sector has been decimated by staffing shortages.”
The Health Care Council of Illinois said Pritzker’s proposals are “concrete steps” that will help alleviate workforce shortages seen across nursing homes. They added they will work with the administration on the release of additional federal relief funds for the industry.
“Lastly, HCCI remains committed to working with all stakeholders to enact a new reimbursement system focused on staffing and quality of care that will help stabilize the industry,” they said in a statement. “HCCI’s mission is to pass legislation that will prevent nursing home closures, save critical healthcare jobs and prevent the disruption of resident care.”